Current and former participants in Redevelopment Opportunities for Women’s (ROW) Economic Action Program (REAP) are volunteering their time, knowledge and energy to help other women improve their economic stability. All eight participants—women who are survivors of intimate partner violence—are volunteer “bankers” at the third branch of Healing Hearts Bank, a microlending program sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women, St. Louis Section, and offered in partnership with ROW.
These volunteer bankers have communicated their enthusiasm to help other women who have been in situations similar to their own. One banker shared that she is “feeling empowered” and positive about “helping other women.” Another stated that she looks forward to gaining a “deeper understanding of the needs of my community,” as well as the opportunity to “return” knowledge and wisdom to other survivors of intimate partner violence.
The mission of Healing Hearts Bank is “to build a community of women assisting women through connection to assets not normally available.” The bank provides access to small-dollar loans to stabilize the lives of women impacted by intimate partner violence, with a goal of providing nontraditional loans for survivors of domestic violence who may not be able to access traditional banking for emergency and other identifiable needs. All loan recipients will be either past or current participants in REAP, so they are already actively working to build and repair credit and attain assets. The microlending program will provide another avenue to attain economic and family stability. Of the program and the opportunities it affords, one banker stated, “I am excited for the [program] and look forward to being a help.”
The mission and goals of Healing Hearts Bank complement ROW’s programs and serve as a mechanism for realizing ROW’s mission of “empowering women to build safety, skills, economic security and hope for the future.”
ROW has been providing advocacy services and innovative programs to women impacted by intimate partner violence, poverty and homelessness for more than 30 years. The organization’s REAP program offers financial literacy classes, individual economic advocacy for credit repair and matched savings to participants. REAP serves more than 300 women annually, and has assisted countless women to build assets, reduce debt, build credit and stabilize their lives. In addition to REAP, ROW offers an array of programs and services to help women and their children, including Family Strengths, a self-development and parenting program; Family Literacy, an educational program offered in partnership with the St. Louis Public Schools Adult Education and Literacy Program; and the Multi-Lingual Access Project (MAP), offering language advocacy and interpretation services to domestic violence partner organizations and the women they serve.
As a testament to the quality and innovation of ROW’s services, the organization’s executive director, Meg Schnabel, was awarded the Champions of Change Award from the White House in October 2011. Schnabel developed the REAP program before assuming her current position at ROW, which she has held for more than 10 years.
It is anticipated that the third branch of Healing Hearts Bank at ROW will be making small-dollar loans of up to $500 by the fall of 2013. Loan recipients will all be survivors of intimate partner violence, experiencing financial hardship as a result of economic abuse, an often unacknowledged form of power and control over a woman by an abusive partner. Volunteer bankers will analyze loan applications, select recipients and ensure that loans are repaid in order to make future loans available to more women. Bankers will continue to be comprised of past and current REAP participants, providing an opportunity for them to use the financial literacy information learned as a result of participating in the program. Banker meetings are held monthly and run by the volunteers. Employing the model of empowerment, this program’s infrastructure allows women to help other women, ensuring the realization of its mission.